As Amanda has pointed out, attendees at academic conferences often ask questions only to demonstrate their own knowledge or their ability to tear down someone else’s argument.
My students are displaying the opposite behavior. They are extremely reluctant to ask questions during presentations by their fellow students, even after I have explicitly informed them that questioning is part of the exercise and showed them examples of how the process happens in the so-called real world. As with Simon, I regard a lack of questions — whether to me or to peers — as a sign that students are not fully engaged.
So I’ve decided to take a carrot and stick approach and attach tangible costs to not asking questions. Earlier today I sent out this announcement to my comparative politics class:
The first step in solving problems effectively is correctly identifying the problem to be solved, and this requires asking questions. Since questions are not being asked during presentations in class, it’s time for a change. You need to choose one of these options:
1) Each team is required to ask at least two questions, with each question asked of a different team during its presentation. If a team does not ask two questions when presentations occur, it is disqualified from the rocket pitch competition for points. Any member of a team may ask a question.
2) Every member of a team is required to ask a question during the presentations. Each question coming from members of one team must be asked of a different team. If a person does not ask a question, that person is disqualified from receiving points if his or her team wins the rocket pitch competition.
Whichever option receives the most votes will be implemented beginning on Tuesday, for the next rocket pitch competition.
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